Archive for October, 2014

The Value of Joe Maddon

Under pretty much all circumstances, relative to people involved in the game, we the public have a lesser amount of information. Sometimes, it’s close, like when it comes to specific player valuation — we have access to almost as much as the teams and executives do. But sometimes we’re bringing a straw to a knife fight. There’s perhaps nothing we understand less than the value of a manager. Analysts have tried to dig in deep, and within our heads we have ideas of which guys are better than others, but ultimately we’re always guessing on the impact. What are we supposed to do with charisma and leadership? The attempted evaluation of managers causes many people to just throw up their hands. Why even bother?

So, from the outside, we can barely say anything. We simply don’t know. And maybe teams don’t know much, either. Maybe they’re guessing almost as much as we are. But we can at least evaluate market behavior as an indirect reflection of a guy’s perceived value. And the market has responded strongly to Joe Maddon’s sudden and unanticipated free agency. The Cubs are going to hire Maddon, officially, maybe before I’m done writing this post. It’s pretty clear, then, how highly Maddon is thought of.

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Saying Goodbye to The Greek God of Walks

“Grady did not know that. Grady had ignored Paul’s prodding to scout the players his computer flushed out. Paul had said the scouts ought to go have a look at a college kid named Kevin Youkilis. Youkilis was a fat third baseman who couldn’t run, throw or field. What was the point of going to see that? (Because, Paul would be able to say three months later, Kevin Youkilis has the second highest on-base percentage in all of baseball, after Barry Bonds. To Paul, he’d become Euclis: the Greek god of walks.)

Good nicknames in baseball are somewhat of a rarity these days. One of my favorite sections of The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract is “nicknames.” Nicknames like “Earache,” “Firebrand” and “The Grey Eagle” resonated a lot more than today’s silly trends of shortening people’s names, or adding “Y” or “IE” to the end of them. One notable exception was Kevin Youkilis. Blessed in the above passage in Moneyball as “The Greek God of Walks” nearly a year before his major league debut, the baseball world sat up and took notice of a previously anonymous player before his major league debut. No pressure. While that might not seem like much of an achievement in today’s prospect- and media-saturated world, things were quite a bit different back in 2003. Yesterday, it was reported that the Ohio native had retired. Throughout his career, he served as the perfect example for several well-worn baseball lessons.

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How Game Seven Saved the 2014 World Series

The 2014 World Series was an enjoyable contest. Not only did the Royals provide a fresh face and a different type of team than we’ve generally seen in the Fall Classic, but Madison Bumgarner gave us a performance for the ages. And, for the first time since the two Wild Card games, we actually got a winner-take-all contest; the first two rounds of the 2014 playoffs provided little in the way of drama about the outcomes of the series, as the winners combined for a 20-3 record in the division and league championship series. But, while the World Series gave us that elusive Game Seven, we also have to acknowledge that series had one of the lowest totals of in-game drama of any World Series in history.

One of the neat things about Leverage Index, besides giving a numerical representation of important situations, is that we can look at the average leverage index for an entire game and get a feel for how dramatic the game was as it went on. In a close contest where the lead is regularly changing, the average leverage index can push near two, as it did in Game Two of the NLCS; the aLI for that game was 1.94, meaning that each play carried something close to double the weight that it would have had in an average game. The 18 inning contest between the Giants and Nationals had an aLI of 1.81, so that was basically two full baseball games worth of drama similar to what you’d find protecting a ninth inning lead.

The World Series didn’t have any games like that. In fact, until the final game, it didn’t include a contest where the aLI was even over 1.0. The first six games were mostly blowouts, with the exception of game three, the one in which the Royals took a 1-0 lead in the first inning, built it up to 3-0, and then held on to win 3-2. Besides that we, had 7-1, 7-2, 11-4, 5-0, and 10-0 contests; the aLI of game six was a paltry 0.25, the third lowest number for a game in World Series history.

So, where does this series rank in terms of average leverage index for all of the games combined? Let’s take a look.

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FG on Fox: The Royals’ Coming Windfall

It was following a half-decent season in 2013 that Royals general manager Dayton Moore said he felt a little like he’d won the World Series. The remark didn’t go over very well locally or nationally, and Moore conceded later he could’ve chosen better words, but at the core of a poorly-worded sentence was a legitimate message. Moore sensed that people were getting into the Royals again. Even though the team that season had fallen a little short of the playoffs, the roster was at least competitive, and the fans at least had a product to watch. What Moore meant to say was that the franchise was restoring its bonds with the city around it, after too many years of two-way neglect.

The bonds are restored now. They maybe have never been stronger. After a year of no playoffs, Moore felt like he’d won a title, so I can’t imagine how he feels after a year of coming one win away. The fans are in love again. Many of the fans, they were always in love, but they’re once again willing to act on it. And new fans have been gained, as well, fans who previously never gave baseball a second thought. Consider one anecdote, to represent many:

People are wearing blue proudly again. People filled Kauffman Stadium proudly again. People are chanting proudly again. Last year put the Royals back on the map; this year circled the Royals with dark ink and arrows. The fans sense an opening window of contention, and as heartbreaking as it is to lose in a seventh game, this doesn’t have to have been the last chance. The Royals could be back, and they could be powered in no small part by gains from having made so deep a run.

All that success, all that restored loyalty and enthusiasm — that’s money. What’s more, that’s money the Royals weren’t even budgeting for. I’ve never been confused for a financial wizard, or for any kind of wizard, but what the Royals have been gaining is pure profit, and the gains aren’t going to end with the playoff run. As a matter of fact, the Royals will be benefiting from this past month for a good while yet.

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Scouting the Top 2015 July 2nd Prospects

I spent last week at a 4-day showcase in Ft. Lauderdale, FL for July 2nd eligible players from the Dominican Prospect League, then went to a 5-day tournament in Jupiter, FL for the top high school travel teams, which included many top draft prospects.  I’ll cover the Jupiter tournament and players rising/falling on draft boards later this week.  That said, this year’s tournament didn’t have the out-of-nowhere pop-up prospect or mid-round player jumping into the first round that we’ve had in past years, so my rankings from last month are still pretty close to what I have right now.

The DPL showcase was my first time seeing many of the top 2015 July 2nd prospects. I was last in the Dominican in January for a week of showcases for 2014 prospects and the DPL and rival International Prospect League (IPL) both briefly showcased their top 2015 prospects when many of them were 14 years old.  So, I’d seen some of these players before, but we’re in the part of their development where big physical changes can come in a few months, so every new look will shuffle any scout’s rankings.  If you’re looking for the next July 2nd super prospect, I wrote about a kid in the 2016 class, Venezuelan switch-hitting shortstop Kevin Maitan, last month and some video of him popped up since then.

As I talked about in more depth last year, the biggest effect that the new international bonus pools had on July 2nd signings is teams agreeing to verbal deals with players far earlier than they had in the past.  Essentially, MLB put a soft cap on spending that at least 25 teams stay under each year, so the best way to make the most of a fixed budget is to get discounts by locking up targeted players as early as possible.  MLB didn’t like this and some associated things that came with this shift in the industry and is basically trying to create, via recent rule changes, a “July 2nd season” that starts in January , though nearly everyone from players to agents to scouts to executives think the recent rule change causes more problems than it solves (more on the details of this situation from Ben Badler).

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Strikeout Rate for AFL Pitchers as Indicator of Future Success

The Arizona Fall League is a remarkable spectacle for those with even a passing interest in prospects, insofar as it provides an opportunity to see many of the best ones of those (i.e. the best prospects). This year’s edition of the AFL, for example, has featured Byron Buxton, Addison Russell, and Francisco Lindor — ranked first, fifth, and sixth, respectively, among Baseball America’s midseason top-50 list. Except for the Futures Game, there’s rarely an occasion upon which one is able to witness such a substantial collection of minor-league talent.

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Q&A: Chip Hale, Arizona Diamondbacks Manager

Chip Hale replaced Kirk Gibson as manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks earlier this month. What approach will he bring to a franchise coming off a 98-loss season? Based on a conversation with Hale, it will be one closely entwined with that of Arizona’s new leadership up top. Dave Stewart is now the general manager and DeJon Watson is the vice president of baseball operations. Tony LaRussa was named chief baseball officer this past summer.

Hale’s voice will be heard. The 49-year-old has strong opinions about how the game should be played. He also has a lot of experience. He was Bob Melvin’s bench coach in Oakland the past two seasons and before that he was a third base coach for four years, two each with the Mets and Diamondbacks. From 2000-2006, he was a minor-league manager in the Arizona system. An infielder in his playing days, Hale spent parts of seven big-league seasons with the Twins and Dodgers after being drafted out the University of Arizona.

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Hale on his early influences: “I played throughout the minor leagues with the Twins and made it to the big leagues with them. That culture was about hard work and playing nine innings. It kind of filtered down from Tom Kelly and the things he preached. You saw that all the way down through the minor league instructors. Read the rest of this entry »


Effectively Wild Episode 568: Postseason Lessons and Legacies

Ben and Sam discuss World Series hangovers and the Danny Duffy deception, then talk about what they learned from the Royals and the Giants.


Alex Gordon Barely Had a Chance

Imagine if, for some reason, you completely missed Game 7. Not only did you miss it — you didn’t hear anything about it, from friends or from family or from the Internet. You get home, and this is the first thing you see:

jirschele

What on earth has to be going through your mind? It requires special circumstances for a third-base coach to end up with a postgame interview. And why is this one smiling? He must’ve made one hell of a decision. You know what the rules are, with regard to attention paid to base coaches. They only get it when they’ve done something controversial.

People want there to be a controversy here. The way the World Series ended was final, conclusive. Salvador Perez, 100% absolutely, made the last out on a foul pop-up. There is no what-might-have-been with Perez’s at-bat. So many have turned to the play before, when Alex Gordon was stopped at third after sprinting on a single and an error. It’s a frantic search for closure that resembles a frantic avoidance of such, and without any doubt in my mind, if Gordon had been waved around, it would’ve made for an all-time moment regardless. But while we can’t say for sure that Gordon would’ve been toast, since the play never happened, it sure seems to me the odds were too strongly against him. Mike Jirschele did the smart thing, and Alex Gordon did the smart thing, and Salvador Perez did the following thing. Barring a miracle, sending Gordon would’ve just ended the game a few minutes sooner.

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Effectively Wild Episode 567: Game 7, from Start to Finish

Ben and Sam recap and respond to Game 7’s twists and turns, from Guthrie to Bumgarner and Gordon.